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Conference | Research Seminar

“Homosexual practices that even cows disapprove of”? How (not) to respond to anti-LGBT crackdowns

  • Stephen Brown, Fellow Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, and Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa
Friday 12 April 2019
Registration: Please register in advance at l-peg@hum.leidenuniv.nl to receive a copy of the paper
P.N. van Eyckhof 2
P.N. van Eyckhof 2
2311 BV Leiden

Abstract: The recent government crackdown on the LGBT community in Tanzania highlights dilemmas facing Western foreign aid donors. How do they express their dismay with egregious human rights abuses and encourage African governments to reverse course? Is cutting foreign aid effective or does it actually makes things worse? In what other ways could they help ensure that LGBT rights are recognized and respected?

This paper examines the human rights situation in Tanzania over the past couple of years, placing it in a broader context, and analyses more generally the challenges that Western countries face when trying to promote LGBT rights in Africa. The paper argues that although taking quick, punitive measures may signal virtue to domestic voters, they are rarely helpful on the ground. Instead, donor countries need to listen to local LGBT activists (who usually argue against aid sanctions) and design longer-term strategies based on a nuanced understanding of the roots of state homophobia and crackdowns' links to authoritarian survival strategies. Among other things, donors' responses should be sensitive to the history of Northern countries imposing aid conditionalities on Southern countries and the longer history of unequal North-South relations. Western countries should also be careful to avoid hypocrisy regarding their own LGBT rights records and avoid instrumentalizing LGBT rights. In order to be more effective, the promotion of LGBT rights should be embedded in a more holistic vision of rights, including those of women and other marginalized populations, as well as practice the principle of do no harm.

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